Many medical professionals in Ticino object to the new directive  | Photo: Pixabay
Many medical professionals in Ticino object to the new directive | Photo: Pixabay

A directive requiring hospital staff to report all people who are not legal to authorities has caused a scandal in Switzerland. Physicians who oppose the measure cite the need for "professional secrecy" and the obligation to give care "to anyone in need".

A new directive for public hospitals issued by the Office for Social Support and Integration in the Swiss canton of Ticino calls on doctors to "systematically report to the authorities individuals without documents, alleged asylum seekers, foreigners in transit or 'suspects' who arrive at the emergency service alone or by ambulance."

The canton of Ticino has long been at the forefront of the migrant influx because it shares a border with Italy, one of Europe’s main points of entry for migrants. The Mendrisio hospital is among the most visited by foreigners because it is the closest to the Swiss-Italian border.

The circular, issued in August and made public in late November by the local weekly Il Caffé, left hospital staff astonished when they learned of its existence through the press.

"I am waiting to see how this text will be implemented in the health centers, but I object because it is not my role as a doctor to denounce patients," Davide Giunzioni, president of the Association of Assistant Physicians and Clinical Leaders (Asmact) in the canton told InfoMigrants. "I am obligated to respect professional secrecy and provide care to anyone in need, regardless of their status and origins."

An 'illegal' directive

According to the Swiss Refugee Association (Osar), which encompasses several organizations, the directive is illegal. "It could constitute a violation of the right to get help in situations of distress that is provided for in Article 12 of the Swiss Constitution," which states that "everyone must be able to receive emergency care," Osar’s communications director Michael Flückiger told InfoMigrants. The directive also runs counter to the Federal Law on Data Protection and Privacy. 

"Care will obviously not be denied to anyone,” Cristina Oberholzer Casartelli, director of the Office for Social Support and Integration, assured the Swiss daily Le Temps. “The directive is simply an administrative and accounting indication to facilitate the billing of health services by the cantonal hospital entity (EOC)" of Ticino.

In Switzerland, the canton is the main guarantor of unpaid bills relating to emergency care provided to illegal aliens. "These costs have increased considerably in recent years, exceeding the budget allotted for this purpose. The instruction given is to optimize the chances of paying these bills," Oberholzer Casartelli said.

The measure is all the more controversial because the number of arrivals has fallen sharply in recent years. At the height of the migration crisis in 2015, nearly 40,000 people applied for asylum in Switzerland. In 2018, the number of applications is expected to be 19,000. The majority of asylum seekers come from Eritrea, Syria, Afghanistan and Turkey. 


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